Under Big Brother Law, Police Get Cell Phone Companies to Tell All

Cellcom tells Knesset panel police have been requesting customer information not specifically included in law.

It appears police have been exploiting the authority granted to them under the 'Big Brother Law' by demanding cellular phone companies provide them with certain customer information beyond that which has been specified in regulation of the law.

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee met Wednesday to determine amendments to the new law.

However, discussion of police attempts to circumvent the Knesset via regulations under this law dominated the meeting in light of a presentation by the Cellcom phone company.

Representatives of the company reported that police have been asking them for additional figures on customers, including: the date a customer joined the company; the type of service he or she receives; the type of phone; the agent who arranged the service; how account payments are made, and more.

The law, passed last year, allows the police to establish a comprehensive database of telephone numbers, cell-phone numbers and other telecommunications data.

It entrusts the public security minister with promulgating regulations governing issues such as how this information will be stored, who will have access to it and how oversight will be conducted, but requires the Constitution Committee to approve these regulations.

However, a draft regulation submitted by Public Security Minister Avi Dichter states merely that "the database manager will conduct supervisory and oversight activities from time to time as laid down in police procedures."

In effect, this means the police would decide for themselves how oversight would be handled, without the committee's approval.

Police violations of the law were brought for debate by Knesset Constitution Committee Chairman Menachem Ben-Sasson.

The MK warned that "if [police] are really trying to circumvent the committee via internal orders and procedures, that is unacceptable, and is liable to come at the cost of our confidence in them."

That would make it harder for the committee to approve future police requests, he added.

Dichter's office said in response on Tuesday that the only thing police want to decide for themselves is the frequency of oversight activities, but "if the committee thinks it's better to arrange this matter as well via regulations, there's no problem from our standpoint."